Sunday, June 13, 2010

Open Letter To ITV


To Whom It May Concern

I have now been alive for 9 World Cup Finals. 1978 and 1982 somewhat passed me by but I have vivid memories of the 1986 event and every subsequent competition since. What fun some of them have been with great ups and downs and wonderful shocks and surprises.

Yet, if there is one sure-fire dependable constant throughout it all (alongside England's expectation/achievement levels going further and further in opposite directions) it will be that your coverage of matches will be so uniformly numbskulled that, across the country, remote controllers will be hurled TV-ward in their millions. In some strange way it is almost comforting that, no matter how much cash you throw at your coverage, there will be several hundred moments in every game where I feel compelled to swallow my own tongue to put an end to the televisual experience being inflicted on me. You are always reliable. Like death, for example.

This year though, you really have outdone yourselves. Your coverage so far, especially the England v USA game, has far undercut even my own very, very slender expectations for your company's ability to organise the proverbial handjob in a knocking shop.

Firstly, the picture on standard ITV is a pixelated, shimmering whirlpool of confusion. I presume you're getting the pictures from local TV teams in the same way as the BBC? So why does ITV's coverage look like I am watching it on You Tube? On a phone. Behind frosted glass. With cataracts. I can only presume it's a cynical attempt to get us all to move onto your HD coverage instead.
It certainly worked here at any rate as myself and friends settled down with beers and crisps to watch England v USA on Saturday night on the HD channel. We are all hardened ITV watchers by now and know the subtle tricks needed to endure the 2 hours or so at the mercy of you hopeless goons.
Scientists would have a very good example of the theory of evolution in action if they just studied the relationship between the ear and brain of modern football fans in the UK. We have all developed a gland in the frontal region of our brains that allows us to filter out the sound of Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend and replace them with a gentle buzz. It used to be that we could just mute their inane chatter and listen to Radio 5 instead but digital TV's minor delay has put paid to that. So we struggle through.
Would it really be too much to ask for ITV to employ someone to commentate or comment on football who just does precisely that? Call me old-fashioned but my concept of a commentator is to give me an audio overview of proceedings with occasional tactical observations I myself would not have noticed or been knowledgable enough to pick up upon. I really don't need them to poetically set a scene for me or to stir my heart to action. I do not need wistful quips. I do not need musings on life delivered by a cretin. I just want to know, in as transparent manner as possible, what is happening on the pitch and, if possible, why.
This is especially crucial when the footage concentrates more on endless, very, very slow-motion replays of minor events than it does on what is actually happening in the now. I understand (or hope for you guys) that you have no control over the pictures as mentioned already. When the local producer chooses to give us a truly bizarre 30 second clip of David Beckham on the bench looking confused (more of an art film really than coverage of a football match), how about the commentary team do their job and let us, the confused people not present at the game like they are, know what is happening? I think that would be nice.
The quality of punditry and commentary on BBC is hardly perfect. Alan Hansen is the human embodiment of a very tighly clenched sphincter and Mark Lawrenson looks and acts like he's been poured into his seat like a Salvador Dali drooping clock with the demeanour of a sulky teenager but at least they offer some insight that is thankfully devoid of bullshittery.
And talking of the BBC, can you please point the ITV graphic design team in the direction of the BBC's visual presentation please? It seems like if there is an opportunity for over-design and over-complication where easy-to-read simplicity would do then ITV will grab it with both hands. The studio set resembles the results of someone shooting the contents of an abbatoir and a fireworks factory at the inside of a Portakabin with a cannon. Easy on the eyes it is not. Even the on-screen score looks like someone smeared a fly across the glass.
The pre-match build up: an hour and fifteen minutes of pure crud before the USA game. An hour and fifteen minutes. 75 minutes. 75 minutes of fluff and ad breaks. 75 minutes that make The Sun newspaper's football coverage look intelligent and insightful. And all of it looking like it was put together for GCSE Art & Design.
Of course I understand that the BBC have the advantage of not having to show adverts to pay for everything and the build-up gives you more ad break time. But do you have to cram quite so many into the programme? My urinary tract is trained to only tell the brain of impending flow issues when the little advert break thing flashes in the top corner. If I watch the full build-up and the match I'm taking a piss every 20 seconds. Perhaps says more about my age than anything but come on, help me out here. I fully expect you to have worked out a way of advertising mid-game by the time the next World Cup comes round. I look forward to it. In fact, it seems like you're already doing it but I'll get to that in good time.
I'm not even going to delve into the "James Corden Presents A Tribute To TFI Friday" programme where footballers, ex-footballers and popstars sat in the middle of a truly squirm-inducing hire-a-party staring vacantly into the middle distance, perhaps looking for their last shred of dignity as it disappeared over the horizon. Or perhaps their agent so they could dispense a swift and justified ass-kicking.

Anyway, I am sure you get my drift. My point is that we expect nothing less than a total joy vacuum from ITV's coverage. We expect it so much that we have developed ways of dealing with it that make it just about bearable. We have no option to watch it elsewhere so we are forced to watch it on ITV and like going to the dentist, or being bummed as payment for an unpaid debt to a loan shark, we can endure it for the greater good just as long as you give us the one thing crucial to watching live football: footage of the match as it happens. But no.
Minutes into the HD coverage of the England v USA game, ITV suddenly exceeded all known parameters of incompetency by switching to an ad break for Hyundai mid-match. The game eventually comes back on and England have scored in the meantime.
What is the meaning of this cruel joke? Was I part of a collective hallucination?
It appears not. I found myself surrounded by grown men in a state of confusion and hurt. A hurt swiftly replaced by anger, vows to never buy a Hyundai (as if it were their fault) and some very unsavoury statements about Mr Tyldesley's personal life that I am not proud of but endorse fully, even in the cold and calm light of day. And to make matters worse, we had to watch the rest of the game in standard jerky definition as the HD seemed to bite the dust with the unplanned ad break.

We can put up with the truly awful and unhelpful commentary; we can let the endless waffling pre-match build-up and punditry wash over us zen-like as though a cool untroubling breeze; we can take a slash in the ad breaks and maybe go to the fridge but for the love of God if you get one thing right just make sure it's showing the match. Please. I beg of you. The 2010 World Cup is now forever tarnished by my missing our country's opening goal. Like stepping in a dog egg on the way to a dinner date. No matter how good the dinner is and how well you clean yourself up, you always think in the back of your mind that you can still smell poo.

So, what I am suggesting is as follows: as penance for this heinous foul-up you do the right thing and hand over all broadcasting to the BBC.
Canvassing the football-watching public I doubt you would find one single person who would disagree with the inherent wiseness of this plan. It would have the added bonus of warming the public's collective heart towards ITV and perhaps you can bounce back from this and make some decent non-football-based televisual matter in the future.

I seriously fucking doubt it but, you know, you could.

I expect this to be implemented with immediate effect and look forward to your agreement on this important matter.

Yours Sincerely,
Christopher Summerlin.

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